Murtala Square located in the heart of Kaduna, though better known as a traditional wrestling arena, is the place where hundreds of enthusiasts gather every Sunday to either compete in canary songs, or just listen to sweet melodies from these delightful and fascinating little birds.
While most people go to the arena for regular sporting activities or to relax, this particular group has fun competing in what is commonly known as canary singing.
The canary is a colourful and cheerful little bird that measures between five and eight inches (12-20 cm) in size, and is bred for its song, colour or feathering all over the world. In Kaduna, leisure seekers converge at the Murtala Square where they sit back every Sunday evening to watch and listen to these lovely charmers compete for honours, although the place was originally meant for traditional wrestling matches. The traders around the Square happen to be responsible for building the different designs of cages for the canaries, while another group makes brisk business either hunting or breeding these beautiful birds which cost less than the larger parrots and some of the other soft billed birds.
Those who bring their canaries to the venue do so for the love of the stiff competition between their birds and those of other competitors. Thus, the competition holds its audience captive especially when an under-dog or an unknown canary outshines one that is famous for its winning singing voice.
The cages that hold the canaries come with different designs and names such as ‘Glory,’ ‘Kainuwa,’ ‘Hybrid,’ ‘Masaba,’ ‘Bakauye,’ ‘New Edition’ and ‘Concorde.’
A member of the Nigerian Canary Singing Birds Association, Kaduna State chapter, Alhaji Ali, said the canaries are caught at a young age in the bushes near the city, especially in areas such as Buruku, Turunku, Kasuwan Magani and Maraban Jos, between September and November, which is their hatching peak period. He also intimated that from the beginning they cost between N500 and N1,000, but after they have adapted a good song they become more expensive.
Among the canaries are those that are more mature and are able to serve as examples for immature ones. A trained canary that is to groom young ones usually has half of its cage covered with a cartoon or a piece of cloth so that the new ones being trained would see, listen to its song and imitate it. This is done because some older canaries may not sing when a younger bird is around to hear them and mimic their songs only to later beat them in a competition. Thus, when the young ones have copied a particular song, their owners take them close to a different canary to copy yet another song to prepare them for big competitions, experts told Weekly Trust.
During competitions, the panel of judges and referees can declare as winner any canary that draws 100 songs in five minutes. One of the judges explained that canaries have different songs but during competitions these songs are called ‘draws’, because an ordinary song is different from a draw which refers to the long whistle, while the song is just an ordinary sweet melody that is not drawn.
While most canaries can sing at a competition, they make draws only when they are excited. Also, when a canary is not ready to compete, its feathers are usually raised. This same scenario plays out when it is sick or when it is defeated, breeders said.
Another important feature of the canary affair is the red pepper given to the birds to make their feathers red.
“We go all over the North to compete. We were recently in Zaria and Jos, we choose the best to travel with when going for competitions,” Muhammad Ali, a canary handler told Weekly Trust.
“A very expensive canary is the type that can make a long draw, sometimes for as long as 13 minutes,” he said.
Weekly Trust also learnt that some canary owners copy the songs of some birds they like on the internet, record and play them to the young canaries they are grooming.
Canaries are believed to have originated from the Canary Islands, from where they were introduced into Europe in the mid-15thcentury and from there they later spread to other parts of the world, including Nigeria.
Weekly Trust gathered that a lover of canaries recently came to Kaduna from Lagos to purchase the champion song canary.
The enthusiasts vary as some only hunt for the young ones, while others breed and sell to members and elites who buy different types to groom for big championships.
“Some people can travel far and wide just looking for big challenges from other canary birds,” Ali said.
He said one gripping feature of the canary is howthe male takes care of the females and draws their attention by raising its feathers, adding that the birds have to be closely monitored to avoid a possible outbreak of disease.
“We usually give the ailing canaries a small dose of antibiotics by pouring it in their drinking water,” Ali said.
It was gathered that canaries grow new feathers after the rainy season and hardly sing during that period.
“Only male birds sing as the ladies do not, and if they are in the same cage, which is not allowed, the female will pinch it not to sing,” Ali explained.
The average life span of a bred canary varies from five to six years for the female, and up to 10 years for the male, though there are canaries that are believed to have lived up to 20 years, including one in Jos which was said to have been recently eaten by a giant rodent.
When a member is blessed with newly hatched chicks, he is honoured by other enthusiasts who assemble in his house or at the Murtala Square to compete.
Canary owners comprise mostly of the high and mighty in society, ranging from professionals to military officers and top businessmen. The national chairman of the association is Brig-General Muhammad Abdullahi Bande, while Bala Joga is the National Secretary.
The Vice Chairman of the association, Isa Ibrahim (Mai Keji), who owns a shop at Unguwan Shanu market in Kaduna, said he has been making bird cages for about 20 years and he is contented with it.
There is no doubt that the canary singing competition has provided a source of livelihood for scores. Ado, who joined the business 15 years ago, said it has helped him marry and have children.
He said an apprentice can become an expert within a year, adding that the materials used in cage making vary from lightwood, wires and paints among others. The price of a cage ranges from N200 to N10,000.
The weekly meeting is full of friends of canary owners who come to watch how the birds of their friends would fare in a competition. Whether they will win or lose. Others are onlookers, who just stumble on the canary owners during the weekly event.
Source: All Africa